We sports fans are a quantitative bunch.
There's nothing we love more than having a single, definitive number to summarize the performances of our favorite athletes or teams, especially when we can use that number in a heated argument against a dissenting point of view.
Kobe Bryant averaged over 27 points this season and carried his team to the playoffs, you say? Well sure, I retort—but he only shot 43% for from the field. Two dozen players in the league could do that and more if they averaged 23 shot attempts a game.
ERA. PPG. QBR. We can't get enough. And when we're finally at a level of information overload, we come up with new statistics that are supposed to be deeper and more accurate than the ones they're replacing.
ERA becomes xFIP, PPG evolves into efficiency rating, etc.
Mixed martial arts is the new kid on the block, with FightMetric leading the charge on quantitative MMA statistics. This is a wonderful thing because statistics help give clarity to something complex. So while a new MMA fan might not be able to articulate the finer technical points of a double-leg takedown, they can look at Georges St-Pierre's sport-leading 77.3% takedown accuracy and know that he's pretty good at putting his opponents on their backs.
And since MMA is still in its infancy relative to other mainstream sports, it gives us the unprecedented opportunity to shape the way the sport is covered. We can leave useless statistics at the door and focus on the ones that matter. It's with that idea in mind that I present to you a notion that might seem extreme at first, but it comes with merit:
It's time we stop paying attention to MMA career records.
I'll admit from the start that this proposition is UFC-centric, but it's a fact that the UFC is the presumptive major leagues of MMA. Bellator puts on some fantastic fights, and Strikeforce still has some top-level talent (until the inevitable day when Zuffa shifts them over to the big-brother promotion), but the vast majority of the best fighters in the world call the Octagon home.
With that in mind, take a look at the career records of two current UFC fighters:
Fighter A: 20-8, 17 finishes
Fighter B: 16-7, 14 finishes
Based on those numbers, you'd assume that fighter A was better, based on the fact that he's managed to win more with a better winning percentage. But let's adjust those numbers to include just these fighters performances in the UFC and include the win/loss streak that they currently are on.
Fighter A: 7-7, 5 finishes, two-fight losing streak
Fighter B: 11-5, 9 finishes, three-fight winning streak
All of a sudden, your perception of those two fighters shifts dramatically.
Fighter A is Jeremy Stephens, a four-time bonus winner but not someone who is anywhere near the top of the lightweight division. Fighter B is Nate Diaz, who has a legitimate claim to fight for the lightweight title.
This is just one of a hundred similar comparisons that highlights the importance of UFC records over career records. It's the reason that Mark Munoz (12-2 career, but 7-2 in the UFC) is knocking on the door for a title shot, but Michael Kuiper (11-1 career, but just 0-1 in the UFC) probably won't be on the main card in his next UFC appearance.
My point is that for the vast majority of fighters currently in the UFC, their records outside of the promotion are hardly indicative of the successes or failures that they're experiencing in the Octagon.
Fighters simply do not face the same level of competition on a fight-to-fight basis anywhere else in the world, and their numbers become skewed as a result. Miguel Torres' pre-Zuffa record is 32-1, but does that tell us much about a fighter who's gone 2-2 since the UFC absorbed the WEC?
So with the goal of creating an accurate reflection of record, I propose that we place our primary focus for UFC fighters on two statistics: record inside the Octagon and current UFC winning streak—both of which are direct indicators as to who are the top fighters in each weight class.
When Bruce Buffer introduces both fighters, I want to hear their UFC records, not the inflated numbers that they earned while climbing to the big leagues.
This isn't to say that career records should be completely discounted, but they should be treated just like a first baseman's minor league on-base percentage, or a quarterback's college career touchdown totals.
The reality is that other promotions are a minor league of sorts, and a win in King of the Cage doesn't hold the same historical value as does a win in the UFC. So, when a fighter like Hector Lombard makes his promotional debut in August, by all means introduce him as a 31-2-1 (1 NC) fighter. But after that bout, his introduction should begin with, "This fighter has a 1-0 (or 0-1) UFC record, 31-2-1 (1 NC) overall."
Now, I understand the perceived diminishment that this type of focus would have on the accomplishments of veteran fighters from the PRIDE era, with guys like Wanderlei Silva (4-6 UFC record) and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (4-3 UFC record), in particular. Similarly, fighters like Lombard and Gilbert Melendez have earned their positions in the sport by clearing out the divisions of their respective promotions.
But to this sentiment, I have two points:
First, to adopt a focus on UFC records does not mean to create a vacuum where no other MMA history exists. We can appreciate the accolades that these veterans rightfully earned without confusing their position in the sport today.
Second, and most important, this shift in focus is not done with the past in mind but for the benefit of the future.
With Josh Barnett's loss last Saturday, we are rapidly reaching the point where the PRIDE gladiators of old are on their last legs. At the same time, the fighters that are the champions of today (Jon Jones, Junior dos Santos) and tomorrow (Rory McDonald) are making their name solely in the UFC. Five years from now, it's conceivable that the UFC and Bellator will be the only two major MMA promotions in the country, with the vast majority of PRIDE fighters long retired.
Our stat system should be reflective of that environment, not of one where the best fighters are stretched across multiple organizations across multiple countries.
We as fans and writers are in the unique position of shaping the way the MMA is covered and discussed. For the sake of clarity and consistency, consider a gradual shift in discussion and analysis, and we'll reap the benefits of mainstream understanding in the future.